Jeff Garlin’s newest standup comedy special, “Our Man in Chicago,” is truly one of a kind—because most of it was improvised. His first-ever recorded special became available on Netflix on Nov. 12. The show, which marked the 37th anniversary of Garlin’s comedy debut, proves that not much has changed over his long career. Maintaining his usual sporadic style, he seamlessly blends improv with storytelling to construct an authentic performance that kept audience members and viewers alike on their toes for the entirety of the one-hour special.
Training in his hometown of Chicago, Garlin honed his skills at the famed Second City improv troupe before graduating to prominent roles in both television and cinema. He has been a well-respected comedian in the industry for some time, with notable characters including Jeff Greene on the heavily improvised Curb Your Enthusiasm and Murray Goldberg on The Goldbergs. Garlin has even showcased his more family-friendly side playing characters in both Toy Story 4 and Wall-E.
The special began with a cold open centering on a quick anecdote about Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star Larry David, followed by a simple black-and-white title screen introducing the special. The simple graphics made it clear that the focus was on the comedy, not the theatrics, and the show kept on moving with Garlin quickly transitioning into a dialogue about awkward encounters at the gym.
Pacing the stage, Garlin dove into his eventful past performances, marking a strong distinction between his Saturday 3 a.m. shows versus his Sunday 3 a.m. shows. With the past behind him, he turned his focus toward the present, fearlessly berating one audience member for his peculiar fashion sense—boat shoes on dry land.
Audience participation was a common theme throughout the special, as his rampant digressions would often lead to dramatic fantasies about members of the crowd. At one point he skillfully crafted an extensive narrative detailing the unrequited love and eventual affair between two unsuspecting showgoers who defined their current status as nothing more than “friends from college.”
On a somewhat more serious note, Garlin later dove into a segment discussing the differences between confidence and ego and how he came to the sobering realization that he needed to begin taking better care of himself. He cites his children as his strongest motivation to make the change, stating that he wants to live each day for them as they are the only things he loves more than comedy. Quickly shedding the serious attitude, he took the audience on his journey of sobriety while also discussing proper donut-eating etiquette and his love-hate relationship with Krispy Kreme.
He connected with his audience one last time, addressing his Netflix audience directly and humbly thanking them for sticking around when they “could’ve been watching Stranger Things.”
Wrapping up the show, he advised his audience to “Take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously,” a mantra that perfectly encapsulates the theme of the night’s performance. Unafraid of making mistakes and even less worried about constantly crowd-pleasing, it was evident that Garlin’s performance was just as much for him as it was for his viewers. There was a level of honesty present that is simply missing from many of today’s modern comics, an honesty that made comedians like George Carlin so unforgettable.
Recently, Bo Burnham addressed the same issue of comedic hypocrisy in his comedy specials as well, and while his format was a stark contrast to Garlin’s, with meticulous planning and time sensitive cues, he was able to present the same pressing message of nonconformity and authenticity that Garlin embodies.
An arguably less common but by no means less entertaining format, Garlin’s special ultimately testifies to the versatility of comedy. As he so honestly noted during the opening minutes of the special, “I’ve spent the majority of my career not having an act, and tonight I have a beginning, a middle, and an end, so it’s weird to me.” While Garlin appears to be in every way a stranger to structure, his effortless transitions and playful charisma made for an overall genuine show that piqued the audience’s interest.
Featured Image by Netflix